England » Rosemary Tonks » The Bloater

Rosemary Tonks: The Bloater

This is one of those books that, many, many years ago, might have been described as a comedy of manners. Tonks wrote it in four week and hoped to make a lot of money out of it – I suspect that she did not. It went out of print for a long while before being republished by Vintage.

Our heroine/narrator is Min. We know that she is in her thirties. She is married to George. George plays a fairly minor role in this book and, apparently, an even smaller role in Min’s wife. Indeed, throughout this book, we almost never see them together. He is much loved by everyone who knows him, and is always on the way to or from the British Museum. He pays the bills, is genuinely fond of me, and, I suspect, leads two or three lives once away from the house. Officially he is the Keeper of unprinted books at the British Museum. She suspects that at least some of the unprinted materials are porn. One night, she switched off the light in the kitchen, locked the door and went to bed, having failed to realise George was eating his dinner there.

She works at the BBC radiophonic workshop (Tonks worked for he BBC). During the course of the book they will be working on setting a poem about Orestes to electronic sound. We know that however well we succeed, fifty “experts” (people who acquire theoretical knowledge without using it) will pour cold water on the result.

One of her colleagues is Fred who is very nitpicking, always finding fault and trying for a perfection she does not share. Jenny, however, has a colourful love life which she recounts to Min and, the two compare and contrast.

Min’s best friend is Racquel (my dangerous woman friend) who also has a busy love life and is flirtatious. Only Racquel knows the prices on the male stock-exchange

Min has three admirers, excluding her husband. Claudi is much older – in his sixties – and a neighbour. His cat, to his dismay, seems to spend more time with Min than with him. She refers to him as my good friend but adds nobody loves me, except possibly Claudi. He is always there when needed and sometimes when not needed and has a sense of humour and is quick-witted. It is clear that he would like the relationship to go further – he often pats her on the behind – but she is happy just to have him as a friend. I’ve never worked out whether he’s a good or a bad influence on me; and now it’s too late because I’m devoted to him.

Billy is different and younger. He is elegant and dashing and, during the course of the book, the relationship becomes more physical. My much prized, friendly, reliable Billy will turn into a male whose flesh will keep me awake at night, as, indeed, happens.

Last and definitely not least – he is by far the the largest (physically) character in the book – is Carlos Hamburger. He is a renowned opera singer, performing both in the UK and abroad and knows lots of important people. Indeed, during the course of the book he will attend the funeral in Paris of Prince Youssoupoff who was one of the men who killed Rasputin. When he is in London, he lodges with Min and George.

Throughout the book, Min has very much a love-hate relationship with him. At times she cannot stand him, while at others she is attracted to him. It is she who nicknames him The Bloater, because of his size. She claims he smells. She says he irritates me more than any man I have ever met. She abuses him but Besides, the Bloater is my Bloater — Ah, so that’s my secret! He’s mine, and so I alone can abuse him. It’s my job to make him suffer, though it does not seem to bother him. He buys her expensive presents. He did have what he called a block (I think this means he’s less good at seducing women than formerly) but is getting over it, thanks to her, he says. However she says My poor old Bloater, with your fifty or sixty unblocked successes! Why aren’t you any good at seducing me? It’s so easy. At least it seems to be. She likes him, she she dislikes him. I’m hit by remorse. I’ve spent two years being offensive to this man. In return, he’s done me nothing but good. He may even love me, in addition to being in love with me..

Towards the end of the book, he will invite her to the opera which she reluctantly accepts, giving him a detailed list of what she wants for the between acts supper. The opera goes fairly well. The aftermath less so, not helped by the fact she is more interested in Billy by this time.

While not a great work of literature by any means , it is certainly a very enjoyable read. The characters are colourful, lively and often somewhat quirky but not too quirky. The larger-than-life Bloater is undoubtedly the most interesting, character, full of himself, quite sure that Min will fall for his charms, as many other women have apparently done while being completely oblivious to her very ambiguous feelings for him. Min herself is also a fascinating character, varying her affections, ignoring her husband and not really sure what she wants out of life, except, of course to love and be loved. And, of course there is nothing wrong with that.

Publishing history

First published in 1968 by Bodley Head